KUTCHER IS NO. 1 & 2; JACKASS IS NO. 3

It was a good weekend for Ashton Kutcher movies. Sony's animated Open Season, in which he provides the voice of a smooth-talking deer, opened in first place with an estimated $23 million, while Disney's Coast Guard drama The Guardian, in which Kutcher co-stars with Kevin Costner, placed second with $17.7 million. Open Season was Sony's 11th number-one opening of the year. It performed particularly well in IMAX theaters, where it took in about $1.4 million in just 65 theaters, averaging $22,000 per screen vs. $6,001 in conventional theaters. Finishing in third place was last week's top film, Paramount's Jackass Number Two, which raked in another $14 million to bring its total to $51.4 million. The Weinstein Co. and MGM's School for Scoundrels, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder, flunked out with $9.1 million to place fourth, while Jet Li's Fearless from Focus Features rounded out the top five with $4.7 million.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

1. Open Season, $23 million; 2. The Guardian, $17.7 million; 3. Jackass Number Two, $14 million; 4. School for Scoundrels, $9.1 million; 5. Jet Li's Fearless, $4.7 million; 6. Gridiron Gang, $4.5 million; 7. The Illusionist, $2.8 million; 8. Flyboys, $2.3 million; 9. The Black Dahlia, $2.1 million; 10. Little Miss Sunshine, $2 million.

SONY LOSES POWER

Despite the continued success of its motion picture business, shares in Sony Corp. fell to a 2-1/2-month low today (Monday) over news of continued problems with batteries made by Sony for laptop computers. Analysts estimated that the recall of Sony batteries could wind up costing the company some $420 million. In a note to clients, Koichi Ogaawa of Daiwa SB Investments, commented, "Without a doubt this is damaging for Sony. However, we've been hearing about this recall for some time, so there is also no need for panic." Most analysts said that the real damage was a public relations one -- tarnishing Sony's reputation as an elite maker of trouble-free products.

THEATER SHUTS DOWN RATHER THAN SCREEN "DRIVEL"

The two-screen Lorraine Theater in Hoopeston, IL, reopened for business Friday following a two-week protest shutdown by owner Greg Boardman. Boardman said that he closed down the theater rather than run such studio offerings as Jackass Number Two and The Covenant. "There's just so much lousy material out there -- people vomiting on the screen," Boardman told the Chicago Tribune. "I have one of the finest sound systems in the world, and I don't want to waste it on such drivel." Noting that Boardman now operates the theater from his home in California, Carol Hicks, managing editor of the Hoopeston Chronicle remarked, "He's got away from Hoopeston and changed. ... He doesn't know what people like here." Boardman, who lives in the foothills of the Sierra near Yosemite, told the Trib: "I can fly back there anytime I want and show any movie I want. ... How man people can say they have their own movie theater and can do that?"

U.S. LOSING $20.5 BILLION TO MOVIE PIRATES

In an analysis of figures by the Motion Picture Association of America showing that motion picture piracy costs the major movie studios $6.1 billion in revenue, the Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation has concluded that piracy costs the entire U.S. economy $20.5 billion per year. The figure takes into account losses to theater operators, video retailers, ad agencies, advertising-supported media outlets accountants and lawyers, set makers, janitors and suppliers and includes $5.5 billion in annual earnings losses for U.S. workers and $837 million in annual tax revenue. Commenting on the findings, MPAA Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said, "Motion picture piracy hurts not only the movie business, but triggers a harmful domino effect that results in lost jobs and wages for American workers inside and outside the industry."

NETFLIX ANNOUNCES $1-MILLION PRIZE

Netflix, the online DVD rental company, said Sunday that it would award $1 million -- The Netflix Prize -- to the software developer who could improve the accuracy of its movie recommendation system by 10 percent. In a statement announcing the prize, Netflix Chairman and CEO Reed Hastings said that such systems would play "an increasingly significant commercial role in the future" as the company takes on new rivals. Separately, Hastings told the New York Times: "The beauty of the Netflix prize is you can be a mathematician in Romania or a statistician in Taiwan, and you could be the winner." Currently the Netflix system looks at movies that customers have purchased in the past to predict movies that they are likely to enjoy in the future.

Brian B.